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Old 08-07-2005, 02:29 AM   #1
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Default Ward,Hope,El, Tuman,Towsend & other

Misc info on what's happening w/ some of the key players so far this camp..

Holdout is no option for some

By Mike Prisuta
Sunday, August 7, 2005

In a less politically correct time, they might have come to be known as the "St. Vincent Seven."
Except that only six of them are present.

Six of the players who are listed as starters on the Steelers' training camp-opening depth chart and are entering their contract years are here. They've shown up for work, and they've committed themselves to the cause from Day One. They're out there sweating, competing, building, bonding, running, catching, blocking and trash-talking with their teammates.

The seventh, wide receiver Hines Ward, is not around.

And none of the others are holding a grudge.

"The six of us are not where he's at," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said.

He meant in terms of leverage, status and pedigree, not Latrobe rather than Atlanta.

To Steelers players, even the ones confronting identical contractual circumstances, Ward isn't just the heart and soul of the team and the face of the franchise, he's John Wayne.

And a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

As for the rest, they felt compelled, for one reason or another, to report on time, play to the best of their abilities and let the chips fall.

It isn't inconceivable one or more might receive a contract extension prior to the regular-season opener Sept. 11 against Tennessee (Ward signed his existing deal the day before the 2001 opener at Jacksonville). But nor are there any serious negotiations currently being conducted. And the Steelers traditionally put a halt to all such talks once a season starts.

"There haven't been any discussions at this point, so it'll definitely be played out," tight end Jerame Tuman said of his deal.

Tuman's gotta do what he's gotta do, too.

Jerame Tuman

A seventh-year pro who has started exactly half of his regular-season games with the Steelers (42 of 84) and a pair of AFC Championship games, Tuman is in the seemingly unenviable position of having seen the Steelers identify and secure his eventual replacement.

"They drafted a tight end (No. 1)," Tuman said. "They're obviously going to see how that works out."

In the meantime, Tuman has showed up determined to do everything he can to keep the Heath Miller era on hold.

"Not because of Heath, but because it's another year," Tuman said. "I think I've worked out harder and done more in the offseason than I've done before."

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has also noticed a different Tuman this summer, and not just because Tuman showed up with a shaved head.

"Jerame Tuman has really stepped up his game," Roethlisberger said. "He's bulked up, he's gotten strong, he's running fast and he's playing well."

Deal or no deal.

Chris Hope

The Steelers re-signed Hope after he garnered no offers as a restricted free agent, but he received just a one-year deal.

They're apparently taking a wait-and-see approach with the former third-round pick in 2002 who rarely saw the field until assuming the free safety position vacated by Brent Alexander in 2004.

"I can only control what I can control, and that's being in shape, knowing my assignments and giving it all I can every play," Hope said.

"For every individual, it's a proving stage at all times. You can't get comfortable. The coaches always say if you get comfortable you're on your way down hill. I don't plan on getting comfortable. I plan on building off what I did last year, hopefully having a better season, and we'll see what happens."

The Steelers finished No. 1 in overall defense, so Hope must have been at least solid if not spectacular in his first year as a starter. But it's also reasonable to believe the Steelers will demand more big plays from their free safety (Hope had no sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and nine passes defensed), even though Hope's responsibilities as a center fielder in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's zone-blitz scheme limit such opportunities.

The coaches haven't gotten specific regarding raised expectations, but "they definitely look for me to play better than I did last year," Hope said.

He'll do his best this season to convince the Steelers he's a part of their long-term future.

"I would definitely love to play for the Steelers the rest of my career," Hope said. "This is a team atmosphere, everybody gets along real well, coaches as well as my teammates, we're all real good friends.

"I'm used to Pittsburgh, the environment around Pittsburgh, the city, St. Vincent. Everything is real comfortable for me off the field, and I wouldn't want to change that, but the business sometimes doesn't allow you to do that."

Antwaan Randle El

He's the player most directly affected by Ward's situation.

Should Ward's relationship with the Steelers become strained beyond repair, Randle El will become even more of a valuable commodity.

But should Ward eventually cash in big, that'll mean fewer millions committed to the wide receiver position and to Randle El, who has already publicly suggested he can become a star given the opportunity.

Still, Randle El isn't willing to link himself with Ward as anything but a teammate.

"He's been to four straight Pro Bowls, so I think we have, I know I have a ways to go to get to that point," Randle El said. "His situation is a business matter. When he gets it taken care of he'll be back.

"It's just a matter of both sides agreeing. Neither side should win more than the other."

Randle El is the first option for replacing Plaxico Burress at split end, even though the former second-round pick and converted college quarterback has started just eight of 48 NFL regular-season games in his first three seasons.

Randle El is also one of the most explosive punt-returners in Steelers' history.

He just isn't a "priority," at least not yet.

"There's nothing to talk about," he said of his contract status. "It is what it is, and it's nothing right now."

Should it become something, even after the 2005 season but prior to the 2006 free agency period, Randle El will be willing to listen.

"I love it here," he said. "I want it to work out so that I stay here."

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